Dating back to the 18th century, bluegrass sits at the intersection of traditional Scottish, Irish, and English folk music. Settlers brought their ballads, dance music, and fiddles to the Appalachian Mountains in North America, where their individual melodies mixed together to create an uplifting sound that has been passed down from musician to musician for generations.
Bluegrass may be a cousin to folk, traditional, and Americana music, but at its heart it exists as one of the most distinct and noteworthy individual genres of our time. It is music that weaves stories and moves the soul—it’s a rich and colorful genre that can excite and invigorate the senses, especially with a little cannabis nearby.
Below, explore five bluegrass bands with your favorite pre-roll in hand—preferably on a rocking chair, soaking in the soulful tunes.
Laws of Gravity by The Infamous Stringdusters
Strain Pairing Recommendation: Tangilope
The Infamous Stringdusters’ latest album, Laws of Gravity, wastes no time as it bursts into life with their first track, “Freedom,” instantly immersing listeners in a rich and invigorating sound. The album, released this year, packs a powerful punch that is vibrant, complex and uniquely its own.
Laws of Gravity manages to encapsulate the traditions of bluegrass while merging it with modern grooves and instrumentation. The bright movements of Jeremy Garrett’s fiddle and Chris Pandolfi’s banjo sing across the soundscape of bass, dobro, and guitar for a symphony that shines with and without the engaging and lively lyrics.
When the lyrics do fade away, listeners enjoy the intricate improvisational jamming that is a hallmark of The Infamous Stringdusters. Laws of Gravity has a life of its own that proves once again why the band continues to be a resounding favorite across the genre’s fanbase.
The Muscle Shoals Recordings by The Steeldrivers
Strain Pairing Recommendation: Blueberry Headband
The Muscle Shoals Recordings starts with light, happy banjo on the track “Long Way Down,” setting the tone for an album that combines the essence of bluegrass with rich complexity. Gary Nichols’ distinct and powerful voice, often accompanied by beautiful backing vocals, cruises effortlessly across the instrumentation and inspires with its authenticity and depth.
The Steeldrivers feature banjo, mandolin, guitar, bass, and fiddle for a full and delightfully classic bluegrass feel. The Muscle Shoals Recordings, produced in 2015, is the band’s fourth album and earned them a Grammy in the Best Bluegrass category.
From the first track to the last, this is a spirited album that uplifts the mind and moves the body with energetic sound.
Thief by Keller & The Keels
Strain Pairing Recommendation: Lodi Dodi
With a distinctly joyful beat, Thief picks you up and whisks you off into a dance of folky bluegrass with Keller William’s playful vocals leading the way. Williams is joined by Jenny Keel on upright bass and flat picker Larry Keel. Together, the three bring a decidedly full sound to their latest acoustic album.
Keller & The Keels have never shied away from creative covers, and Thief, released in 2010, is no exception. Unlike their first album, Grass (released in 2006), Thief does not feature any original songs, focusing solely on covers. The album’s title is an ode to this decision.
Bluegrass versions of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” and Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy” are among the familiar but undeniably fresh covers. The tracks allow the listener to immediately jump in and sing along while still being immersed in new tunes and feelings.
Williams’ knack for composing solo music lends expertise to the composition of his trio, and as such, Thief has an intricacy that is impressive for such a small acoustic group.
Friends of Fall by Crooked Still
Strain Pairing Recommendation: Lemon Drop
Crooked Still offers a unique bluegrass element that is light, airy, and melodic. Lead singer Aoife O’Donovan’s voice carries across the backdrop of banjo, bass, cello, and fiddle like a shooting star.
Friends of Fall, released in 2011, brings an ethereal beauty and complexity to the genre of bluegrass. Songs such as “Pretty Bird” will stir emotion, while “It’ll End Too Soon” inspires and invigorates. Often described as ‘progressive bluegrass’ due to innovative acoustics, Crooked Still’s high-energy sound encourages engagement from the first note to the last thanks to its unique instrumentation.
Friends of Fall is refreshing and wholly uplifting, carrying the spirit of bluegrass as it soars to new and delightful heights.
Love. Ain’t Love by Yonder Mountain String Band
Strain Pairing Recommendation: Afgooey
Love. Ain’t Love, released this year, is the latest from Yonder Mountain String Band, encompassing a full thirteen tracks of rich and engaging rhythms that will keep you on your toes.
Featuring five band members on banjo, bass, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin, Yonder Mountain String Band also has the distinction of all five members acting as vocalists, which allows them to create beautifully layered and rich harmonies.
On the other hand, Love. Ain’t Love does not shy away from fully instrumental tracks, such as “Fall Outta Line,” which showcases the band’s innovation in its tune. This ability to embrace the full merits of their instrumentation has won YMSB fans across various genres, including those in the jam band scene. When listening to Love. Ain’t Love, one can get lost in the music as it paints stories with and without lyrics.
Love. Ain’t Love provides a playful, energetic, and creative soundscape. The passion and vibrancy in every note of the album act as joyful reminders that Yonder Mountain String Band continues to inspire and be inspired by bluegrass, even 18 years after the release of their first album.